Breastfeeding rates in Australia…what’s happening?

It’s amazing.

When I wasn’t looking, all of a sudden (it feels like), breastfeeding initiation rates in Australia are 96%.

96% of women are starting off breastfeeding their babies, according to the latest numbers in the Australian National Infant Feeding Survey (published in 2011).

Just saying, that’s up there with many of the Northern European countries. The latest US figures are 85% and UK 78%, which have increased significantly in the past ten years.

Which is all good news, right?

Yeah.

So what’s making all the public health peeps scratchy about breastfeeding rates?  It’s just that the women who start breastfeeding aren’t continuing to breastfeed in great numbers after they leave hospital.

Six months of breastmilk straight up, neat, no additives, no preservatives. That’s what confers the most health benefits for babies worldwide.  After that, the World Health Organization suggest starting other foods for babies, alongside breastfeeding, for two years, or as long as mum and baby are happy to continue.

In Australia, 15% of babies are being exclusively breastfed in their 6th month (ANIF, 2011).  A few of the remaining 85% will have just started having food, which is ok, but most will have been having infant formula, with or without breastfeeding.

Is that ok?

Yes and no. The most health benefits are in the setting of babies having breastmilk only for the first six months. On the other hand, there are health benefits to babies having any breastmilk. 

Bit of a bind really.

The challenge is to have babies getting only breastmilk for longer, for the public health benefits this provides across the population.

Does anyone have any ideas how to achieve this?  I’ll write some more about this in this week’s blog: more babies being breastfed for longer.

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